Don’t Count Out Medical School After One Bad Premed Semester

Premed students should self-evaluate – not panic – after a semester of less-than-perfect grades.

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Achieving a high premed GPA is important, but allow yourself time to adjust to college life before stressing out over subpar grades.
Achieving a high premed GPA is important, but allow yourself time to adjust to college life before stressing out over subpar grades.

Getting into medical school is difficult, and applicants are frequently rejected because their grades are not high enough.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the average GPA of an applicant who matriculated at a medical school was 3.68 in 2012, close to an A-minus average. This puts a lot of pressure on medical school hopefuls because it is a challenge to do that well every semester. 

So what if you have a bad semester or two? Are your chances at getting into medical school gone? If you are, have been or could be in this situation, there are some things you should consider before you decide to switch majors. 

[Choose the right undergraduate major for medical school.] 

1. Why did you do poorly? First, determine why you underperformed. Were you lazy? Did you simply have difficulty understanding the material? Are you a bad test-taker? Do you genuinely dislike what you are learning? 

Evaluate where you went wrong and decide whether it is fixable. If it is laziness, you can change that. 

On the other hand, if you realize you hate science and you dread studying anything science-related, maybe medicine is not for you. You must be willing to be honest with yourself. 

2. Are you overreacting to the situation? There is often a big difference between a premed student's idea of a "bad" semester and everyone else's definitions. Many premeds think that anything below a 3.6 GPA is not sufficient. Many students would likely be happy with a 3.5 GPA. 

First, ask yourself how badly you actually did. Obviously it is more difficult to recover from a 2.5 than a 3.3, even though both are subpar for a premed. 

Do not be too hard on yourself for not surpassing a 3.5 GPA in your first semester. It takes time to adjust to college life, as classes and exams can be very different from high school. 

[Find ways to fight procrastination during medical school.] 

3. Can you recover and is there time? It is most common for college students in their first and second years to consider dropping premed after one or two bad semesters. That is when their GPA looks the worst. 

If you get a 3.0 during your first semester, that number is your overall GPA. Although it is just one semester, the low GPA looks daunting and it can feel like you will be unable to bring it up. 

Even if you feel hopeless, there is still enough time, numerically speaking, for you to raise your GPA. You must believe that you can recover and make the proper adjustments to put yourself in the best situation to improve. 

I did not start my college career at UCLA with a good GPA, but as I learned how to study and made the appropriate changes, I began to consistently do well enough in most of my classes to make up for my poor start. 

If you do poorly all through your freshman and sophomore year and you end up with a GPA lower than 3.0, consider that even if you get straight A's for the rest of your college career, the maximum GPA you can get is 3.5. Given the time you have left, see if your goal GPA is mathematically attainable. 

[Understand the reasons why students leave medical school.] 

4. What does the overall trend show? Medical school admissions committees can look at two students with the same GPA completely differently. They generally look favorably upon the student who started slowly but finished strong and negatively upon the student who started strong but progressively did worse. 

The former student learned from his or her mistakes, while the latter student did not show any academic growth. Admissions committees look at your entire transcript and see how your grades have progressed. 

Upward trends show perseverance and willingness to change. If you did poorly because of special circumstances such as family issues or health problems, you will have an opportunity to explain what happened on your application. 

Do not lose hope if you have had one or two bad semesters. There are many medical students and practicing physicians who have been in your shoes. 

But at the same time, there is no shame in deciding that a career in medicine is not for you. If you decide that you are willing to do what it takes to become a doctor, your bad semesters must be deviations from the norm. 

Regardless of the route you take, use this time of self-evaluation as a time to mature, learn your limits and push yourself to reach your maximum potential. 

Edward Chang is a graduate of UCLA, where he attends the David Geffen School of Medicine. In addition to managing ProspectiveDoctor.com, he also counsels prospective medical school applicants. Contact him at edwardchang@prospectivedoctor.com or follow ProspectiveDoctor.com on Twitter, @ProspectiveDr.